For terms and use, please refer to our Terms and Conditions Agroecological practices represent solutions that traditional farmers have devised to maximize their yields and food security, given limited resources. Read your article online and download the PDF from your email or your account. Agroecological practices can, of course, be useful in some contexts. Whatever the problems and limitations of modern agriculture may be, dogmatic adherence to a model based fundamentally on traditional farming is not the answer. © 1965 Trustees of Princeton University They differ in location and nature as well as in organization and management. Advocates argue that agroecological farming effectively replaces external inputs with so-called ecosystem services. In the northeastern and southwestern parts of Uganda, where livestock is a huge part of livelihoods, farmers have long used animal waste as a fertilizer amendment for poor soils. AGRICULTURAL TRANSFORMATION and RURAL DEVELOPMENT . When I met Daisy at her farm in the summer of 2018, I asked her whether she preferred a traditional solution similar to her Tithonia–ash concoction or something more modern. So the various refinements that proponents of agroecology suggest offer little to help them dramatically raise their yields or reduce crop losses, much less offer them a life beyond farming if they choose to pursue one. It wraps itself in the cloak of anti-colonialism even as the NGOs promoting agroecology are funded primarily by Western, developed-world donors. Like Daisy, the farmers I work with don’t have access to synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, they don’t monocrop, and they can’t afford tractors or irrigation pumps. Status Quo Over 3 billion people lived in rural areas in 1997. Cambridge University Press ( is the publishing division of the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s leading research institutions and winner of 81 Nobel Prizes. To chart the right course, we must have an honest conversation in which we hold each other accountable in advocating for solutions that can address the fundamental condition of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: poverty. Expanding irrigation is similarly vital. In this way, agroecology in its contemporary usage is fundamentally a reaction against agricultural modernization. To access this article, please, Access everything in the JPASS collection, Download up to 10 article PDFs to save and keep, Download up to 120 article PDFs to save and keep. The benefits of automating traditional farming processes are monumental by tackling issues from consumer preferences, labor shortages, and the environmental footprint of farming. It is also a development model and social justice movement. Agroecology models itself explicitly on traditional farming methods and promises to shield farmers from disenfranchisement at the hands of large corporations, for fear that countries like Uganda will follow in the footsteps of the United States and other developed nations that are dominated by “Big Ag.” It offers a host of practices that target pests, soil fertility, and irrigation. In Uganda, banana-and-coffee farmers in southwestern parts of the country have been using mulching and cover crops for decades. Farmers, especially in industrialized regions, often grow a single crop on much of their land. The vast majority of smallholder farms employs traditional farming practices, with key enterprises focusing mostly on crops and animals that serve as both food and income sources. Access supplemental materials and multimedia. In such arguments, I find nothing resembling the priorities and aspirations of subsistence farmers in Uganda with whom I have worked. They are looking to improve their situation, not merely continue it. Improving the lot of smallholder farmers requires more than just seeds, though — Africa accounts for less than one percent of global synthetic fertilizer use. Many of these journals are the leading academic publications in their fields and together they form one of the most valuable and comprehensive bodies of research available today. Advocates proudly advertise this fact, presenting agroecology as precisely what traditional farmers do when left to their own devices. The term remained mostly confined to academia until the development of the modern environmental movement and its discontent with the Green Revolution, at which point agroecology shifted from a descriptive science to a prescriptive framework for farming. Most of all, we should set a goal far higher than maintaining the status quo. Actually, transforming traditional agriculture presents two distinct problems for analysis and two different sets of problems to solve. Since pre-colonial times, agriculture in Africa has remained overwhelmingly small-scale, with an average farm size below two hectares. But it’s a battle she rarely wins: infestations regularly raise the specter of total crop loss. Although questions remain about the economic sustainability of such programs and whether they are the best means of increasing fertilizer use, their successes serve to underline the human and environmental benefits of modern agricultural inputs, and their shortfalls highlight the inseparability of agricultural modernization from economic development. Modern agriculture emphasizes crop specialization, also known as monoculture. Agricultural modernization isn’t possible without economic modernization. Transforming African agriculture ultimately isn’t possible without transforming Africa. Problem with Traditional Farming. Political scientists and others turn to World Politics to African agriculture needs transformation. and viewpoints relevant to international relations and comparative politics. But they should be thought of as a set of tools, not a pair of handcuffs. It loudly proclaims that agroecology democratizes decision-making but explicitly advocates limiting choices and practices that small farmers might avail themselves of, discouraging synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, mechanization, and biotechnology. Other biotech seeds, developed for nitrogen efficiency, nutrition, water tolerance, and pest, disease, and stress resistance, have also been met with disapproval. Maybe worse still, the ideal implementation of the agroecological framework can make farming even more labor intensive. The African Farmer: Problems facing Agriculture Fertile fields, thriving crops, high quality and plentiful yields, healthy and numerous cattle, financial security, good education for the children, a better home, a better life for all. Like the farmers themselves, we should stop fixating on practices and technologies and instead focus on goals and outcomes, both human and environmental.


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